Rajkot: The Indian spin troika's inability to get breakthroughs on a good batting track was exposed once again as the first Test against England meandered towards a draw after a solid century stand by the visiting team's openers in Rajkot on the penultimate day.
After India were all out for 488 in their first innings, thereby conceding a first innings lead of 49 runs, England openers Alastair Cook (46 batting) and teenager Haseeb Hameed (62 batting) added 114 runs in 37 overs to take the lead to 163 runs.
With only a day's play left and turn on offer being a slow one, it will take a Herculean effort from Indian bowlers to enforce a result out of this match which is heading towards a tame draw.
England won't mind as it would give them a necessary boost on a long tour that will end in the third week of next month.
Cook was unbeaten on 46 off 107 balls and debutant opener Hameed struck his maiden half-century on debut. The 115-ball innings had five boundaries and a six.
With the pitch showing just the usual signs of wear and tear, draw looks the most obvious result, unless England make a challenging declaration and press for a victory on Sunday.
In the morning, India resumed at the overnight 319 for four and lost wickets steadily barring a 64-run seventh wicket stand between Ravichandran Ashwin, who made a steady 70 with seven fours off 139 balls and in 200 minutes, and wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha (35).
India lost the wickets of captain Virat Kohli, who struck five fours in 95 balls, and Ajinkya Rahane (13) in the pre-lunch session and the rest in the session before tea.
The last-wicket stand between Ashwin, who was 49 when the ninth wicket fell, and Mohammed Shami (not out 8) kept England on the field longer than they may have expected and helped India cut the lead to below 50.
All the Indian wickets that fell on Saturday were claimed by the English spin trio of leggie Adil Rashid (4 for 114), off-spinner Moeen Ali (2 for 85) and left-arm spinner Zafar Ansari (2 for 77).
The other two wickets were shared equally by pacers Stuart Broad (1 for 78) and Ben Stokes (1 for 52).
Rahane and Kohli departed in the span of under 15 minutes and in the space of 17 balls in the first session to raise England's hopes which were dashed by Ashwin and Saha with their diligent half century stand that lasted for 98 minutes.
Kohli became the first Indian skipper in over 65 years to be dismissed hit-wicket while Rahane was dismissed cheaply before Ashwin and Saha steadied the rocking boat with a half century stand.
Both Rahane and Kohli were out to pull shots on a wicket where the odd ball had started turning and jumping from the footmarks or widening cracks.
Rahane, who joined Kohli straightaway this morning after India had lost night watchman Amit Mishra to the third ball of what was the final over of the extended day's play, was out when he misread a straight ball from left-arm spinner Ansari.
He tried to pull off the back foot and the ball hit the top of the middle stump.
It was the first big blow of the day and an even bigger one followed when Kohli, who looked well-set and had eschewed risky shots, went back to pull the ball from leggie Rashid but trod on his wicket as his left leg touched the base of the stump and disturbed the bails.
Kohli thus became the second India captain to get out hit wicket after Lala Amarnath in 1948-49 at the Chepauk in Chennai against Trevor Goddard's West Indies.
It was also the 22nd time that an Indian batsman was out in this freak manner, Lala's son Mohinder heading the list having been out thrice in this fashion, and the first time since VVS Laxman got out hit wicket in 2002 against the West Indies at St. John's, Antigua.
The two huge wickets had fallen within just 15 minutes and in 17 balls and India, at one stage last evening 318 for two before Vijay departed for 126, had dramatically slumped to 361 for six.
Although India later lost the wickets of Saha, Jadeja (12), Yadav (5) and Ashwin, tea had approached and England's lead was cut considerably.
Ashwin, who compiled his seventh half century in his 40th Test and third against the tourists, was the last to depart when he was caught in the deep off Moeen Ali after having added 29 runs for the last wicket with Shami who was not out 8 after a stay of half an hour.
England commenced their second innings and appeared in no trouble against either pace or spin although Cook, on 7, was nearly caught hooking a short ball from Shami at long leg by Cheteshwar Pujara.
The Indian spinners will certainly come in for some flak as they bowled 26 out of 37 overs. Ashwin (0/32 in 10 overs) and Ravindra Jadeja (0/33 in 10 overs) did get the ball to turn and jump but it wasn't anything menacing. Amit Mishra (0/19 in 6 overs) again looked slow through the air.
Debutant opener Hameed batted confidently in the company of his captain Cook and the 50 came up quickly in the 15th over.
Only once did the 19-year-old batsman look in trouble, just before he reached his maiden half century.
He offered no stroke when he went back to Ashwin and was rapped on pads. The appeal was rejected and the DRS call by the Indians showed the ball was missing the off stump and he survived. He was out for 31 to Ashwin, trapped leg before, in the first innings....